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Neofeudalism Isn’t a Flaw of the System–It’s the System Working Perfectly

Neofeudalism Isn’t a Flaw of the System–It’s the System Working Perfectly

Fakery is always precarious: the truth about the asymmetries of power might slip out and spread like wildfire.

I’ve been writing about neofeudalism and its cousin neocolonialism for seven years:

500 Million Debt-Serfs: The European Union Is a Neo-Feudal Kleptocracy (July 22, 2011)

The E.U., Neofeudalism and the Neocolonial-Financialization Model (May 24, 2012)

The basic idea here is the socio-economic-political system is structured such that the only possible output is neofeudalism. In other words, neofeudalism isn’t a flaw in the system that can be changed with policy tweaks or electing a new president or PM– it’s the result of the system working as designed.

Neofeudalism is a peculiarly invisible hierarchical structure of power: The New Nobility (or aristocracy if you prefer) wields vast concentrations of political, social and financial power, and does so without the formalized aristocrat-serf relationships and obligations of classic neofeudalism.

We appear to be free but we’re powerless to change the power asymmetry between the New Nobility and the commoners. This reality is reified into social relations that are simulacra of actual power, pantomimes acted out in media-theaters to instill the belief that the foundational myths of democracy and social mobility are real rather than misleading shadows.

Neofeudalism is fundamentally a financial-political arrangement, marketed and managed by cultural elites who strive to convince us that we still have some shreds of power. These elites have a variety of tools at their disposal. One has been described by filmmaker Adam Curtis as pantomime: Trump says/does something outrageous, the Democrats cry “impeachment,” and so on.

This theater of pantomime serves two purposes: it projects a simulation of functional democracy that makes us believe impeaching one president and getting another one in office will change anything about the neofeudal power structure; it won’t.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

France in a Nutshell: “The Government Stopped Listening to the People 20 Years Ago”

France in a Nutshell: “The Government Stopped Listening to the People 20 Years Ago”

The elites’ clever exploitation of politically correct cover stories has enthralled the comatose, uncritical Left, but not those who see their living standards in a free-fall.

A family member who has lived in France for decades summarized the source of the gilets jaunes protests in one sentence: “The government stopped listening to the people 20 years ago. It would be difficult to deny the generalization of this: many if not most governments stopped listening to their people decades ago, preferring instead to listen to financial and political elites and entrenched cultural eliteswho view commoners with disdain.

Legions of commentators are weighing in on the economic and cultural sources of France’s distemper. Many have characterized the protests as working class, broadly speaking, the multitudes who have seen an erosion in the purchasing power of their wages or pensions while France’s financial, political and cultural elites have feasted on whatever meager gains the French economy has registered in the past 20 years.

The protesters rightly perceive that they are politically invisible: the ruling class, regardless of its ideological flavor, doesn’t believe it needs the support of the I>politically invisible to rule as it sees fit. The ruling class has counted on the cultural elites to marginalize and suppress the politically invisible by dismissing any working-class dissent as racist, fascist, nationalistic and other words expressly intended to push dissent into the political wilderness.

The cultural elites reckoned their ceaseless depiction of working-class dissent as racist-fascist populism would continue marginalizing the commoners, but the worm has turned: the financially, politically and culturally marginalized classes are fed up.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Conflicting Forces of Modernism: Kafka and Kierkegaard

The Conflicting Forces of Modernism: Kafka and Kierkegaard

We seem to be heading into a confrontation between the two forces of Modernism: the primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.

In Kafka’s Nightmare Emerges: China’s “Social Credit Score” (May 7, 2018), I wrote about Kafka’s vision of a bureaucratic nightmare emerging in China’s “Social Credit Score.”

The idea here is the central state sets up a vast, pervasive surveillance system to monitor all its citizens, and assigns a social score to each citizen based on his/her compliance with regulations and social norms as defined by the state.

In Kafka’s nightmarish novels, an opaque, impenetrable and impersonalized bureaucracy controls the social and economic structures of everyday life.

China’s system is based on a social score, but one’s social score has enormous economic consequences: the citizen with a low score can be denied rights to travel, his/her children can be denied access to educational opportunities and so on.

As I noted, there doesn’t appear to be a legal process for challenging one’s low social score, or much transparency on the various violations and weighting of violations that go into calculating each individual’s score.

I’ve often written about the difference between force and power: as per Edward Luttwak, force (coercion) is costly and clumsy, while power works via persuasion, grudging or otherwise.

China is attempting to create a system that is extremely coercive (a low score generates severe punishments) but also seeks to internalize the social scoring system: no authority figure is required to force individuals to comply; each individual internalizes the rules and modifies their own behavior accordingly.

This aligns with China’s historic reliance on internalized social norms to control its vast populace. Even in the Song Dynasty (960 AD to 1279 AD), the central state relied on the internalized social norms of Confucian values to “order society” with minimal coercion.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Are We in a Recession Already?

Are We in a Recession Already?

The value of declaring the entire nation in or out of recession is limited.

Recessions are typically only visible to statisticians long after the fact, but they are often visible in real time on the ground: business volume drops, people stop buying houses and vehicles, restaurants that were jammed are suddenly sepulchral and so on.

There are well-known canaries in the coal mine in terms of indicators. These include building permits, architectural bookings, air travel, and auto and home sales.

Home sales are already dropping in most areas, and vehicle sales are softening. Airlines and tourism may continue on for awhile as people have already booked their travel, but the slowdown in other spending can be remarkably abrupt.

All nations are mosaics of local economies, and large nations like the U.S. are mosaics of local and regional economies, some of which (California, Texas, New York) are the equivalent of entire nations in and of themselves.

As a result, there can be areas where the Great Recession of 2008-09 never really ended, and other areas that have experienced unprecedented building booms (for example, the San Francisco Bay Area where I live part-time.)

Changes in sentiment are reflected in different sectors of the economy: people become hesitant about big purchases first (autos, houses) and then start deciding to save more by spending less (Christmas shopping, eating out, vacations, etc.)

Given the structural asymmetries of our economy (a few winners, most people lucky to be losing ground slowly), each economic class also responds differently. The lower 60% of households don’t have the disposable income of the top 10%, so “cutting back” for them might be buying fewer fast-food meals per week.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The View from the Trenches of the Alternative Media

The View from the Trenches of the Alternative Media

What’s scarce in a world awash in free content and nearly infinite entertainment content?

After 3,701 posts (from May 2005 to the present), here are my observations of the Alternative Media from the muddy trenches.

It’s increasingly difficult to make a living creating content outside the corporate matrix. The share of advert revenues paid to content creators / publishers has declined precipitously, shadow banning has narrowed search and social media exposure and the expansion of free content and competing subscription-based publishing has made subscription services an increasingly tough sell.

The most effective ways to silence critics and skeptics is to 1) de-monetize their sites / platforms and 2) restrict their access to the public via shadow banning and search algorithm “adjustments.” The two are related, of course; as audiences dwindle, so do revenues and opportunities to sell subscriptions or promote patronage.

The corporate media’s lumping of all alternative media in with “fake news” and troll-farms has intentionally tarnished all alternative media, as underminings independent journalism and commentary is an essential part of unifying public opinion behind “approved” ideologically uniform narratives.

Significant swaths of the public get their “news” and commentary solely from social media (Facebook and Twitter, and to a lesser degree, Instagram) or a handful of corporate media (which included PBS/NPR). As these channels limit / delegitimize alternative media voices, the public’s access to alternative analysis and commentary diminishes even further.

A few quasi-monopolistic corporations have effectively become gatekeepers: what’s approved is allowed to be viewed / heard / read, what raises eyebrows effectively disappears.

It’s become increasingly difficult to make a living writing books. Advances for established authors have fallen from $10,000 or $20,000 to $2,500 or $1,000, and in the academic publishing world, $1,000 may be the entire sum paid to the author for writing a book.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Truth Is What We Hide, Self-Serving Cover Stories Are What We Sell

Truth Is What We Hide, Self-Serving Cover Stories Are What We Sell

The fact that lies and cover stories are now the official norm only makes us love our servitude with greater devotion.

We can summarize the current era in one sentence: truth is what we hide, self-serving cover stories are what we sell. Jean-Claude Juncker’s famous quote captures the essence of the era: “When it becomes serious, you have to lie.”

And when does it become serious? When the hidden facts of the matter might be revealed to the general public. Given the regularity of vast troves of well-hidden data being made public by whistleblowers and white-hat hackers, it’s basically serious all the time now, and hence the official default everywhere is: truth is what we hide, self-serving cover stories are what we sell.

The self-serving cover stories always tout the nobility of the elite issuing the PR: we in the Federal Reserve saved civilization by saving the Too Big To Fail Banks (barf); we in the corporate media do investigative reporting without bias (barf); we in central government only lie to protect you from unpleasant realities–it’s for your own good (barf); we in the NSA, CIA and FBI only lie because it’s our job to lie, and so on.

Three recent essays speak to the degradation of data and factual records in favor of self-serving cover stories and corrosive political correctness.

Why we stopped trusting elites (The Guardian)

“It’s not just that isolated individuals are unmasked as corrupt or self-interested (something that is as old as politics), but that the establishment itself starts to appear deceitful and dubious. The distinctive scandals of the 21st century are a combination of some very basic and timeless moral failings (greed and dishonesty) with technologies of exposure that expose malpractice on an unprecedented scale, and with far more dramatic results.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Bearish on Fake Fixes

Bearish on Fake Fixes

This systemic vulnerability is largely invisible, and so the inevitable contagion will surprise most observers and participants.

The conventional definition of a Bear is someone who expects stocks to decline. For those of us who are bearish on fake fixes, that definition doesn’t apply: we aren’t making guesses about future market gyrations (rip-your-face-off rallies, dizziness-inducing drops, boring melt-ups, etc.), we’re focused on the impossibility of reforming or fixing a broken economic system.

Many observers confuse creative destruction with profoundly structural problems. The technocrat perspective views the creative disruption of existing business models by the digital-driven 4th Industrial Revolution as the core cause of rising income inequality, under-employment, the decline of low-skilled jobs, etc.–many of the problems that plague the current economy.

I get it: those disruptive consequences are real. But they aren’t structural: the state-cartel system is structural, because cartels can buy political protection from competition and disruptive technologies. Just look at all the cartels that have eliminated competition: higher education, defense contractors, Big Pharma–the list is long.

The fake-fixes to the structural dominance of cartels and entrenched elites come in two flavors: political reforms that add complexity (oversight, compliance, etc.) but never threaten the insiders’ skims and scams, and monetary policies such as low interest rates and unlimited liquidity that enrich the already-wealthy by funneling whatever gains are being reaped to rentiers rather than to labor.

I explain how this neofeudal economy is the inevitable result of our system in my new book Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic.

Our political system, dependent on campaign contributions and lobbying, is easily influenced to protect and enhance the private gains of corporations and financiers. Combine this with the gains reaped by those with access to cheap credit and you have a financial nobility ruling a class of debt-serfs.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Politics of Debt-Serfs and Tax Donkeys: Our Only Choice Is the Least Bad Option

The Politics of Debt-Serfs and Tax Donkeys: Our Only Choice Is the Least Bad Option

The reality is there is no avenue left for advocacy, grievances or redress in a system dominated by global corporations and self-serving political insiders.

What’s striking about the protests in Paris against higher fuel taxes is the universality of the protesters’ expressions of being fed up with a status quo that no longer listens to them. Their commentaries of frustration are echoed around the world, from the U.S. to China: ‘People are in the red. They can’t afford to eat’.

The basic problem is obvious: wages have stagnated while taxes, interest on debt and costs of essentials have soared. When officialdom claims the higher fuel taxes are an expression of concern for the environment, it’s difficult not to gag at the hypocrisy: where are the higher taxes on the corporate and private jets, and the bunker-fuel burning freighters that ply the seas in service of globalization?

People are frustrated because debt-serfs and tax donkeys don’t have any real political options: with all the political parties mere variations of a sclerotic, self-serving elite, our only choice is to either not vote at all or vote for the least bad option.

In the original version of feudalism, peasants armed with pitchforks knew where to go for redress or regime change: the feudal lord’s castle on the hill. Though you won’t find this in conventional narratives of the Middle Ages, peasant revolts were a common occurrence; serfs weren’t always delighted to toil for their noble masters.

In the present era of corporate dominance, where can serfs go to demand redress and financial freedom from the neofeudal system? Nowhere. The global corporations that own the land and the productive assets have no castle that can be stormed; they exist in an abstract financial world of stock shares, buybacks, bonds, lobbyists and political influence.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Two Paths to Collapse

The Two Paths to Collapse

The very structure of our systems guarantees their failure once conditions change beyond their limited ability to adjust.
As a general rule, there are two paths to collapse: gradual erosion and sudden crash. The two are intertwined, of course; in most cases, the system slowly loses vigor, resources, efficiency, etc. (erosion) which leaves it so weakened that a crisis that would have easily been overcome in the past triggers a catastrophic decline of production and order.
My new book explores these system dynamics in the present: Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic. As the title suggests, we’ve got a window to prevent the final descent, but it’s years, not decades.
There are two basic drivers of systemic erosion, drivers that have little to do with leadership or policy. Our current delusion is that changing leaders and tweaking policies are enough to stave off systemic erosion, decline and collapse, but the two dynamics cannot be so easily thwarted.
The first is the gradual decline in the system’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Life’s core asset is the ability to evolve and adapt, and organisms, species and systems which fail to adapt fast enough and effectively enough to rapid change disappear.
Today’s modern complex systems are typically optimized to specific conditions, meaning that they’ve evolved (or been designed) to maximize production and output given a certain set of inputs and processes.
If those conditions shift outside the expected parameters, the system’s efficiency and output are heavily eroded. To take a real-world example: airliners are designed to cruise at specific altitudes to maximize the efficiency of the engines and aircraft design while maximizing the cruising speed.
If an airliner is forced to fly at an altitude of 500 feet instead of 35,000 feet, the optimizations are lost.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Does the Market Need a Heimlich Maneuver?

Does the Market Need a Heimlich Maneuver?

For all we know, the panic selling is Wall Street’s way of forcing the Fed’s hand: stop with the rates increases already or Mr. Market expires.

Markets everywhere are gagging on something: they’re sagging, crashing, imploding, blowing up, dropping and generally exhibiting signs of distress.

Does the market need a Heimlich Maneuver? Is there some way to expel whatever’s choking the market?

So what’s choking the market? There are a number of possibilities: somewhere near the top of most observers’ lists are: rising interest rates, weakening credit growth in China, the slowing of China’s economy, trade wars, European uncertainties, currently centered around Italy but by no means restricted to Italy, Japan’s slowing economy, an over-supply of oil, the rolling over of global real estate markets, geopolitical tensions and various technical signals that suggest the 10-year Bull market in just about everything financial is ending.

That’s a lot to gag on. Take a quick glance at the effective Fed funds rate chart below: the Fed funds rate is up, up and away, accelerating to the moon. No wonder Mr. Market is holding his throat and making panicky motions of distress.

Which is worse–too much oil or a scarcity of oil? Depends on who you ask.Suppliers are panicking with prices pushing $50/barrel while consumers were anxious when prices pushed $80/barrel.

Who can perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Mr. Market? The European Central Bank has been “doing whatever it takes” for 6+ years, and the central banks of Japan and China have had the pedal to the metal of credit expansion / asset purchases for years.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Political Rebellion Gathers Momentum

The Political Rebellion Gathers Momentum

When was the last time a monopoly or quasi-monopoly was broken up? A generation ago, or was it two generations ago?

The Ruling Class that wants us to love our servitude incites us to seek divisions: between red and blue, left and right, progressive and conservative, and so on. The Ruling Class in the mainstream media, in Washington D.C. and in Silicon Valley are experts at manipulating language and terminology to divide and conquer.

But beneath the superficial red-blue divide they are hawking, a broad-based political rebellion against the Oligarchy and their Ruling Class nomenklatura is gathering momentum. People left, right and center are awakening to two painfully obvious realities:

1. the political-social-economic system no longer works for the bottom 95%

2. the system is intrinsically unfair–rigged to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

The bottom 95% lack the political influence of the Oligarchy, and so their only means of expressing their disapproval is at the ballot box, by rejecting the approved mainstream candidates in favor of candidates who might move the needle in a rigged system.

What are the core economic issues that people are trying to solve at the ballot box?

1. The systemic lack of fairness: the growing sense that opportunities are not being distributed as widely or fairly as they once were; ruling elites now have advantages the “rest of us” don’t.

This advantage is very basic: capital has accrued most of the gains of the past decade’s growth and asset appreciation, labor’s share of the GDP continues to slide.

Much of the wealth is controlled by corporate-state cartels operating rentier skims: prices rise while quality and quantity of goods and services remains the same or decline. This is more akin to extortion than a free-market competitive market.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Does Any of This Make Sense?

Does Any of This Make Sense?

Does any of this make sense? No. But it’s so darn profitable to the oligarchy, it’s difficult to escape debt-serfdom and tax-donkey servitude.

We rarely ask “does this make any sense?” of things that are widely accepted as beneficial— or if not beneficial, “the way it is,” i.e. it can’t be changed by non-elite (i.e. the bottom 99.5%) efforts.

Of the vast array of things that don’t make sense, let’s start with borrowing from future income to spend more today. This is of course the entire foundation of consumer economies such as the U.S.: the number of households which buy a car or house with cash is near-zero, unless 1) they just sold a bubble-valuation house and paid off their mortgage in escrow or 2) they earned wealth via fiscal prudence, i.e. the avoidance of debt and the exultation of saving.

Debt has this peculiar characteristic: it has to be paid back with interest.Depending on the rate of interest and the length of the loan, this translates into a mind-numbing reality: borrowing $100 can cost $200 once interest is factored in.

One might reckon that people would be cautious about paying two or three times more for something by using debt rather than cash. But consumer economies are based not just on debt, but on TINA (there is no alternative) and on the timeless seduction of getting something now and paying for it later.

College students are frightened by scary stories of permanent impoverishment and social degradation if they don’t borrow a small fortune to buy a diploma (never mind if you actually learn anything remotely useful or wise; you’re not buying an education, you’re buying an accreditation of your ability to grind through a bureaucratic system without any unhealthy questioning if “higher education” actually makes any sense. Hint: it doesn’t, unless you’re skimming wealth off the poor students.)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Understanding the Global Recession of 2019

Understanding the Global Recession of 2019

Isn’t it obvious that repeating the policies of 2009 won’t be enough to save the system from a long-delayed reset?

2019 is shaping up to be the year in which all the policies that worked in the past will no longer work. As we all know, the Global Financial Meltdown / recession of 2008-09 was halted by the coordinated policies of the major central banks, which lowered interest rates to near-zero, bought trillions of dollars of bonds and iffy assets such as mortgage-backed securities, and issued unlimited lines of credit to insolvent banks, i.e. unlimited liquidity.

Central governments which could do so went on a borrowing / spending binge to boost demand in their economies, and pursued other policies designed to bring demand forward, i.e. incentivize households to buy today what they’d planned to buy in the future.

This vast flood of low-cost credit and liquidity encouraged corporations to borrow money and use it to buy back their stocks, boosting per-share earnings and sending stocks higher for a decade.

The success of these policies has created a dangerous confidence that they’ll work in the next global recession, currently scheduled for 2019. But policies follow the S-Curve of expansion, maturity and decline just like the rest of human endeavor: the next time around, these policies will be doing more of what’s failed.

The global economy has changed. Demand has been brought forward for a decade, effectively draining the pool of future demand. Unprecedented asset purchases, low rates of interest and unlimited liquidity have inflated gargantuan credit / asset bubbles around the world, the so-called everything bubble as most asset classes are now correlated to central bank policies rather than to the fundamentals of the real-world economy.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Out

Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Out

An unknown but likely staggeringly large percentage of small business owners in the U.S. are an inch away from calling it quits and closing shop.

Timothy Leary famously coined the definitive 60s counterculture phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out” in 1966. (According to Wikipedia, In a 1988 interview with Neil Strauss, Leary said the slogan was “given to him” by Marshall McLuhan during a lunch in New York City.)

An updated version of the slogan might be: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Out: turn off mobile phones, screens, etc.; tune out Corporate Media, social media, propaganda, official and unofficial, and drop out of the status quo economy and society.

Dropping out of a broken, dysfunctional status quo in terminal decline has a long history. The chapter titles of Michael Grant’s excellent account of The Fall of the Roman Empire identify the core dynamics of decline:

The Gulfs Between the Classes

The Credibility Gap

The Partnerships That Failed

The Groups That Opted Out

The Undermining of Effort

Our focus today is on The Groups That Opted Out. In the decline phase of the Western Roman Empire, people dropped out by abandoning tax-serfdom for life in a Christian monastery (or as a worker on monastery lands) or by removing themselves to the countryside.

Today, people drop out in various ways: early retirement, disability or other social welfare, homesteading or making and saving enough money in the phantom-wealth economy that they can quit official work in middle age.

We can see this in the labor participation rates for the populace at large, women and men. The labor participation rate reflects the percentage of the population that’s in the workforce, either working or actively looking for work.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What’s Behind the Erosion of Civil Society?

What’s Behind the Erosion of Civil Society?

Rebuilding social capital and social connectedness is not something that can be done by governments or corporations.
As the mid-term elections are widely viewed as a referendum of sorts, let’s set aside politics and ask, what’s behind the erosion of our civil society? That civil society in the U.S. and elsewhere is fraying is self-evident. It isn’t just the rise of us-or-them confrontations and all-or-nothing ideological extremes; social bonds between people are weakening.
There are many probable causes: addictive technologies such as social media and smartphones; chronic economic stress, greater mobility and a host of more subtle factors.
One such factor is the erosion of community and its replacement with state (government) or corporate structures. One of the most insightful essays I’ve read in the past few years is a report from the Guardian (U.K.) on What Happened When Walmart Left a low-income rural community in America’s Coal Country.
One of the most tragic findings, in my view, was that Walmart was the social hub of the community: Walmart was the place to go to meet friends, people-watch, walk around to pass the time, etc.
This is a remarkable reversal of a traditional community, which is centered around communal public spaces such as churches, temples, etc., town squares, Main Street, the local marketplace, etc. Now the center of social life is a corporate-owned private space dedicated to maximizing the profits of the corporation.
This dependency on corporate spaces is paralleled by a dependency on corporations and the state for income and the organization of social life.
This leads to the another tragedy: the near-complete lack of any non-state, non-corporate social structures; the general zeitgeist was near-total dependence on the state and corporations not just for income but for the structure of everyday life, to use historian Fernand Braudel’s phrase.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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